The gateway to New Zealand
Auckland

Situated in the upper half of New Zealand’s North Island, the Auckland region is a place of diverse cultures and landscapes. Stunning coastlines, harbours and islands mean you’re never far away from some water-based adventure, whether it’s surfing, diving, sea kayaking or just enjoying a scenic cruise.

The Auckland region is also home to Auckland City, New Zealand’s largest city with an urban population of around 1.5 million. That’s one third of New Zealand’s total population.

Auckland has everything you’d expect from a modern, bustling city. It’s a shopper’s paradise, offering everything from high-end designer brands to craft and street markets. A wide range of restaurants, cafes and bars offer world-class food and wine and there’s no shortage of arts & culture venues and activities.

When it comes to outdoors and adventure in Auckland, you’re just as spoilt for choice. If you don’t have much time or you don’t want to travel too far, there’s lots to do in easy reach of the city centre. Alternatively, hit the road in any direction and in less than an hour from downtown Auckland you’ll find places that feel remote and unspoilt.

With New Zealand’s busiest international airport, Auckland is the main gateway to the country. Most of the world’s leading international airlines fly into Auckland, either directly or via stopovers in countries like Australia and Singapore.

So, for most New Zealand visitors, it’s less about getting to Auckland and more about where to go once you’ve arrived. Here are approximate travel times and distances to some of the more popular destinations.

Drive times from Auckland

  • West Coast Beaches (Piha): 40 km / 25 miles – 1 hour
  • Whangarei (for Poor Knights Islands and the Northland region): 160 km / 99 miles – 1 hour 15 minutes
  • Cathedral Cove (The Coromandel): 175 km / 109 miles – 2 hours 30 minutes
  • Tauranga (Bay of Plenty): 203 km / 126 miles – 2 hours 45 minutes
  • Hamilton (towards Raglan and Waitomo Caves): 125 km / 78 miles – 1 hour 45 minutes
  • Rotorua: 228 km / 142 miles – 3 hours
  • Whakapapa (for Tongariro National Park): 346 km / 215 miles – 4 hours 30 minutes
  • Wellington (for South Island ferry): 643 km / 400 miles – 8 hours 40 minutes

Travel times can vary significantly, particularly in popular areas during peak visitor months (December – February). For current travel times and updates on delays, roadworks and road closures, use the NZ Transport Agency journey planner before travelling. It’s always a good idea to allow extra time for photo stops and, when travelling longer distances, rest stops.

Flight times from Auckland
In addition to international flights, Auckland Airport’s domestic terminal (AKL) handles flights throughout New Zealand.

  • Great Barrier Island (GBZ): 30 minutes
  • Whangarei (WRE): 40 minutes
  • Rotorua (ROT): 45 minutes
  • Kerikeri, Bay of Islands (KKE): 50 minutes
  • Taupo (TUO): 50 minutes
  • Tauranga (TRG): 40 minutes
  • Wellington (WLG): 1 hour 5 minutes
  • Christchurch (CHC): 1 hour 25 minutes
  • Queenstown (ZQN): 1 hour 50 minutes

Train times from Auckland (Northern Explorer)
The Northern Explorer runs southbound from Auckland on Monday, Thursday and Saturday departing at 7:45 am.

  • Hamilton: 2 hours 30 minutes
  • National Park (for Tongariro National Park): 5 hours 30 minutes
  • Ohakune: 6 hours
  • Wellington: 11 hours

Trains and buses
With its iconic skyline dominated by the Sky Tower, Auckland City centre is quite compact. Shops, hotels, restaurants and waterfront attractions are all within easy walking distance as is Britomart, the main transport hub for buses and overland trains (there is no underground rail network).

Depending on which country you’re visiting from, you may be a little underwhelmed by Auckland’s public transport. The buses and trains are clean and modern and services are regular but the network itself might not be what you’d expect for a modern city. This is first apparent when you land at Auckland International Airport to find that there is no rail connection to the city. Instead you’ll need to take a 30 to 60 minute bus/shuttle/taxi ride into the city. You’ll find that in the city centre and some of the outer suburbs, public transport is adequate, but if you’re an outdoor adventurer wanting to explore the sprawling suburbs and beyond, you’re probably better off with a car.

Most of the big name car hire companies are represented in New Zealand and cars can be collected at Auckland Airport and various locations in the city.

Driving
Driving in Auckland is also not without its challenges. The reality is that the growth of Auckland has outpaced the aging motorway network. That, combined with that the fact that for various reasons most Aucklanders still commute in their cars, means that traffic congestion is a serious problem.

To be fair, the roads are constantly being improved but in the short term that’s just adding to the traffic woes. So, if at all possible, you really want to limit or avoid travelling into Auckland during the morning rush hour and out of Auckland during the afternoon rush.

The start and end of long weekends is also a challenge when it feels like the entire population of Auckland is heading out of the city and then back home again. There are some well known choke points on the motorways where massive queues form, heading north and south out of the city. If you are driving around the Auckland region over a long weekend, it’s always good to check road conditions on the New Zealand Transport Agency website.

Northern Gateway Toll Road
When heading north out of Auckland on State Highway 1 (SH1), there is a paid section of road between Silverdale and Pūhoi. It’s a free-flowing toll system using cameras instead of toll booths with payment made either online or at one of the cash points at either end of the toll section. You’ve got 5 days in which to pay and if you’re in a hire car, don’t be tempted to ignore the toll as your hire company will charge you an ‘administration’ fee. There is a free alternative route that follows the coast and won’t add too much to your journey time on most days. Just watch for the signs as you approach Silverdale from the south and just after Pūhoi from the north. You can find out more about all of New Zealand’s toll roads on the New Zealand Transport Agency website.

Ferries
Ferries are another way of getting around Auckland, either to and from the North Shore or out to the islands of the Hauraki Gulf including Rangitoto, Waiheke and Great Barrier Island. Regular services are provide by Fullers and SeaLink.

Auckland’s climate sits somewhere between subtropical and temperate. Summers (December – February) are warm and humid with an average high of 23 °C / 73.4 °F and average low of 16 °C / 60.8 °F. Winters (June – August) are relatively mild with a few morning frosts but no snow and an average high of 15 °C / 59 °F and average low of 9 °C / 48.2 °F.

Winters tend to be wet and this is particularly noticeable in the mountain ranges that border Auckland City, the Waitākere Ranges in the west, and the Hūnua Ranges in the south-east. This is not such a bad thing given that the Hūnua Ranges supplies much of Auckland City’s water.

You’ll no doubt hear people in Auckland referring to ‘four seasons in one day’ and this is very true. The rain can be bucketing down one minute and then a few minutes later… full sun in a cloudless sky. It pays to be prepared for any weather in Auckland.

Check current conditions and get the latest Auckland weather forecast on MetService.com.


Featured Auckland adventures

Looking for ideas to help you plan the ultimate New Zealand outdoor adventure? Here are some of the top things for active travellers to see and do in the Auckland region.

Matiatia Headland walk

Walk the Matiatia Headland Track

This easy 2 to 3 hour walk offers some stunning coastal views with interesting little coves and bays plus a few millionaire mansions just for good measure.

Anawhata Beach

Visit Anawhata Beach

One of Auckland's less popular West Coast beaches, Anawhata is just a few kilometres north of well-known Piha but it feels far more remote and untouched.

Te Arai Beach

Visit Te Arai Beach

Te Arai Beach, with it's unusual rocky point and pure white sand, is one of our favourite weekend getaway spots for surfing, walking or just chilling out.

Diving Great Barrier Island

Dive Great Barrier Island

Situated on the outer edge of the Hauraki Gulf Marine Park, Great Barrier Island is a mecca for divers, offering an array of dive sites for all skill levels.

Explore Auckland’s West Coast beaches

If you’ve never seen a black sand beach then you’re in for a treat. Auckland’s ruggedly beautiful ‘wild west’ coast is definitely worth visiting. Piha, Muriwai and Bethells are the most popular surf beaches although best suited to more experienced surfers. Alternatively, if you want to escape the crowds, Anawhata, Karekare and Whatipu are the better options.

Piha Beach - Photo: Fyletto/Bigstock.com

There are numerous walking tracks in the area, both along the coast (Te Henga Walkway, Mercer Bay Loop) and in the surrounding Waitākere Ranges forest. That said, many of the forest walks are now closed due to the spread of kauri dieback disease which is having a devastating effect on the forest. If you are considering walking in the area, please first check the Waitākere Ranges open tracks list.

If you’re looking for a little more excitement and adrenaline you could also consider canyoning in the forest with AWOL Adventures.

Explore Auckland’s East Coast beaches

Auckland’s East Coast beaches are a stark contrast to the West Coast. For starters, they are white sand beaches. The coastline is also generally less rugged and the swells tend to be smaller most of the time, making these beaches more family friendly and better suited to surfing newbies.

Goat Island Clearyak

Just east of downtown Auckland are the popular beaches of Mission Bay, Kohimarama and St Heliers which are great for swimming and standup paddleboarding. There are also numerous cafes and bars for afterwards. For something a little off the beaten track consider heading further south towards Clevedon and the nearby Duder Regional Park.

Auckland’s North Shore beaches are also popular, from Cheltenham and Takapuna at the southern end of the shore to Long Bay in the north, just one of many beautiful bays in the area. If you’re up for something a little more adventurous then you definitely want to keep heading north as there are countless beaches and bays that offer everything from surfing and SUP to walking, cycling and snorkeling. Here are a few of our favourite spots:

  • Tawharanui Peninsula – great for surfing, coastal walks and cycling.
  • Goat Island – a marine reserve with abundant, friendly marine life. Try snorkeling or, if you want to stay dry, paddling in a seethrough kayak.
  • Pakiri Beach – a popular surf spot and perfect for long walks along the beach.
  • Te Arai Point – a little off the beaten track but worth it for the surf and the beautiful white sand that stretches north for kilometres. This is also a great place to learn to surf with Aotearoa Surf.

Explore the Hauraki Gulf islands

Situated to the north east of Auckland City, the Hauraki Gulf is home to over 50 islands and a seemingly immeasurable number of beaches and bays. Immediately noticeable is the cone-shaped island of Rangitoto, one of many volcanic cones in the area and Auckland’s youngest. And by youngest we mean 600 years so you’re in no immediate danger.

Waiheke Island - Photo: Matt Crawford

Rangitoto is well worth visiting and it’s just a short ferry ride from downtown Auckland. In fact, being just 3 km off the coast, some of the more adventurous of you may wonder if you can paddle there. The short answer is yes but we would advise against you to doing it on your own. The gap between Auckland’s North Shore and Rangitoto is a busy shipping channel. The good news is that Auckland Sea Kayaks does offer guided kayak tours in and around the gulf, including to Rangitoto. They’re definitely worth checking out. Besides Rangitoto, here are some other islands you should consider visiting:

  • Waiheke Island – wine lovers rejoice, Waiheke is home to some of the regions best wineries and vineyards. Add to that the beautiful beaches, coastal walks and general laid-back lifestyle and you’ll see why it was named as one of the world’s top 10 regions to visit in 2016 by Lonely Planet. If you’re up for something a little more thrilling, try ziplining with EcoZip Adventures while you’re on the island.
  • Great Barrier Island – if getting off the grid is your ideal adventure then this is the place for you. With a permanent population of around 1,000 in an area of 285 square kilometres / 177 square miles, this place feels wild and untouched. There are stunning beaches and beautiful walking tracks through pristine native bush along with snorkeling, diving and fishing. It’s an adventurer’s paradise. Read about some of our own adventure here including, climbing Te Ahumata, visiting Windy Canyon and exploring Kaitoke Hotsprings.
  • Tiritiri Matangi – this entire island is an open wildlife sanctuary and one of the most successful conservation projects in the world.

Get your adrenaline fix

If you’re looking for outdoor thrills to get the heart racing, you won’t be disappointed. Here are some activities to consider:

Auckland Skyjump - Photo: Rafael Ben Ari/Bigstock.com

Some relaxing options

If adrenaline is not your thing don’t worry, there are lot’s of relaxing outdoor activities available.

Auckland cruise - Photo: Camilla Rutherford

Scenic road trips from Auckland

There are three signposted scenic driving routes that start in Auckland. The full routes are all multi-day road trips. They’re a great way to explore much of the upper half of the North Island.

Scenic Highways
  • Twin Coast Discovery Highway – heading north from Auckland, this route explores Auckland’s East coast beaches before heading into the Northland region. From here, this circular route takes you along both the East and West coast as well as Cape Reinga in the far north.
  • Thermal Explorer Highway – heading south from Auckland, this route will take you first to Hamilton where you can choose to explore Raglan Beach and Waitomo before continuing south towards Rotorua and then Taupo and Ruapehu in the central North Island.
  • Pacific Coast Highway – heading south from Auckland and then east towards the spectacular coastal scenery of The Coromandel Peninsula, this route follows the coast towards the Bay of Plenty and Eastland.